Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 98

What Would Joanna Gaines Say?

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We’ve all seen the show Fixer Upper. Chip and Joanna Gaines take old worn-out houses and bring them back to life – often using the same repetitive design elements. How would they approach an old mobile home park’s renovations? In this episode of Mobile Home Park Master, we’re going to discuss the new and best approaches to bringing old mobile home parks back to life – inexpensive ways to freshen up 50 year-old properties and make them seem new again. Maybe one day HGTV will have a show on mobile home parks but – until then – this segment will provide some design insights.

Episode Transcript

Where are Chip and Joanna Gaines when you need them? Right now across America, mobile home park owners are trying to do a fresh redo of their old warn out mobile home park, but they have no shows to watch. They can't go on HGTV, they can't watch a single episode of Fixer Upper that has a mobile home park topic to it, so I thought we'd go over the new things going with mobile home park owners to freshen up those mobile home parks and bring things that are half a century old back to life. Let's start off with the entry. That's the first thing everyone sees in a mobile home park. What's the basic things you do on an entry? Well, you probably know in the Fixer Upper show, they use the same repetitive things over and over, so I'll give you three main things you see on almost every new mobile home park entry today. All three of these are very reasonably priced and have a lot of bang for the buck.

The first one is three rail white vinyl fencing. This is something that we started putting in years and years ago. We actually love the product. It's one of the best things going with mobile home parks. Most mobile home parks have a lot of frontage, and you want to give that frontage some character, some pizzazz. The three rail white vinyl fencing does that for you. It makes it look very polished, very exciting. It's a great product because once you install it, you don't have to paint it. It basically cleans itself every time it rains. If it gets any mildew, you can rub it off. Someone puts graffiti on it, you can take it off with a solvent. It's just a great thing.

It costs roughly about $10 per linear foot to install. That means you can do about 400 feet of frontage for only 4,000 bucks, and it's best 4,000 bucks you will ever spend. Why three rail? We've tested every time. We've done two rail, and we've done three, and we've done four. The two rail is typically too short, the four rail is typically two thick. Three rail allows you to see through and see that is in fact a mobile home park. Does it have to be white? No, it doesn't have to be white. There are other colors of vinyl. Today there's tan, there's brown, and sometimes those are actually more appropriate. I don't think the fact that it has to be white is the key item, but vinyl fencing, and we typically use white, it is the best product out there to give you that bang for the buck you're looking for.

Next thing are feather flags. I don't know who invented them or where they came from. Obviously, they weren't a part of my childhood because I only had regular old flags when I was growing up, but today feather flags are the new hot thing. They stay unfurled at all times, whether there's any wind or not, and they're vertically oriented so they're very easy to fit in a limited amount of space. We like to run our feather flags roughly every 50 feet behind that fencing. So if you have 400 feet of frontage, then you're going to have about eight feather flags. Color choice is up to you. You can do them all one color, you can vary the color. Any way you cut it, it gives you a very, very sharp, very attention-getting entry.

The final item is the actual entry sign. Now, there's a lot of debate out there among people what they like and don't like on entry signs. We don't like any entry sign that is porous, because if you should have anyone ever spray paint any form of graffiti on it, it's nearly impossible to get off of stone and wood. We prefer the good old aluminum with white vinyl lettering on it. Signage, which is then held up by two white vinyl posts with caps. Ties the whole thing together with the fencing, very inexpensive and gives you just a lot of of sex appeal pull from the curb. Now, the costs on the sign is probably going to cost you around $1,500 or so, those feather flags roughly $200 each. So if you add it all together, $4,000 on 400 feet of frontage, I need $1,600 of flags and about $1,500 of sign. So for about 7,000 bucks, I've got quite a fixer upper going on in the front of that mobile home park.

Now let's move to the signage inside the park, speaking of signage. Rip down all that old metal rusted poled wooden stuff that's in there. It's just looks horrible. It's really sad that a lot of people let those signs get so bad, because they're not very expensive. So rip everything down and replace all those poles, again, with white vinyl posts with matching caps. It's not expensive at all. Take the signs that are there. If they're in good condition, you can screw them back into the post. Otherwise, get new ones. They're not expensive. You can buy those posts for like $50 a post, and you can buy those signs typically ranging from $20 to $50 a sign. Again, there's nothing that makes the park have more snap than when you go in and every sign in every corner is a beautiful looking white vinyl post with cap, with brand new street signs, stop signs, children at play and speed limits.

Now let's move on to the clubhouse. Now, there's been a lot of discussion in recent years about mobile home park clubhouses and went they're good for, and what they're good for is creating that sense of community, the magical thing that Time Magazine raved about in their article, "The Home of The Future," not too long ago. So how do you do it? Well, take that clubhouse and get the thing back into commission. So many clubhouses when we buy the mobile home park are abandoned, filled with junk, broken down. People are just using them to store parts. Often, they're skirting the lumber and old dishwashers from 10 years ago. Take all that stuff and throw it out, make that space usable again. Put an indoor/outdoor carpet, paint the interior, make it a place that people can go and entertain and have parties, birthday parties, quilting bees, bingo, whatever they want to do.

On the outside, make that thing classy. Now you can watch some Fixer Upper episodes and get some ideas because you're kind of in that same mode, but typically people don't want to spend a whole lot of money on the clubhouse. There's not a lot you can do with many. Man are mid-century modern in appearance, but the big thing is paint them. Paint them, clean them up, get anything that's old and worn out, get it down. Make it kind of nice and cool and a fun place and an attractive place people would want to live.

Let's move on to laundry buildings. Now, laundry buildings are a feature of all the mobile home parks from the 50s and the 60s and even the 70s because the mobile homes used to be too small to hold washers and dryers in them. As a result, you had to have a laundry building. That's where everyone did all their washing and drying. But today, all the mobile homes have washers and dryers, and the few that don't, they can just go to Quick Wash or somewhere that has a lot nicer laundry facility than yours and even has entertainment venues inside like pinball machines and video games and things like that.

So what do you do with the laundry building? Well, obviously just like the clubhouse, you've got to do the exterior, you've got to paint it, make it nice, fix the roof, whatever there is going on like that. Then you have two options with them: number one, make them into a living unit. Make them into an apartment if the city will allow it. It makes logical sense since you're a mobile home park to have more things that are residential to meet people's different tastes and what they went to live in. On top of that, that rent, if it was an apartment, would be real property rent, so that actually counts on your income that is kept on your valuation of the mobile home park. That's one great idea with the laundry building because it already has water and sewer connections. It has electricity. Not too hard to convert that into an apartment, but again, you'll have to get a city permit to do that.

The other option is to make it into another form of community center. Some of our old laundry buildings, we can't make them into apartments, so instead what we do is we put in the indoor/outdoor carpet, paint them and bring them back to life as another ancillary part of a community center. What are they good for? They're kind of smaller. What are they good for? Well, they can still work for kids' birthday parties, or in some parks you can make them into libraries. You can go down and work with the local library. You'll be amazed how far they will bend over backwards to help you start a library. They will help you get all of the shelving, and they'll sell you the books for literally a dollar per linear foot. Pretty soon you'll have a fairly nice library, and that's attractive to almost everyone in the park, both children and seniors alike. That's another thing you can do with laundries. Not too expensive to actually do everything I just described. Obviously, a lot of money in conversion to an apartment. You have to put it in a good working bathroom and wall separation, but the good old community center is basically the one big empty room just like the laundry room was with some paint and indoor/outdoor carpeting.

Now let's move onto the roads. Now, most mobile home parks share one thing in common. They have really good roads. Bear in mind these mobile home parks are often half a century old, but the road base and the asphalt's holding up really, really well. Now why is that? Well, I think it's because a lot of mobile home parks are built under that HUD program back in the 60s where you had to build it to their specs, and I'm glad they did that program because that made a lot of park owners build these parks a little better than they might have if they hadn't done that. Often what you can do on the park roads to bring them back to life is to do some pothole patching and then seal coating to make them nice and jet black again. Then, you go in and paint your striping and your speed bumps. It looks just like brand new roads. Everyone's very excited bringing the roads back to life, because roads are a big part visually of a mobile home park. Again, you can find this to be done not that expensively. So you don't have to go in typically and repave all the roads. We have in the past in some properties, but normally all you need to do is some pothole patch, seal coating and new fresh striping. It looks like a brand new mobile home park.

Now let's move on to bringing the playground back to life. Now, if you have any existing playground, question one is, is it safe? Because probably the answer is no. You're going to remove a lot of that old equipment. It no longer meets any of the requirements for safe playground equipment. You'll to have to put in a cushion fall zone. That's okay. It's not super expensive, but you can't let kids just fall on the ground anymore. That hasn't been allowed now in years, so you're going to have to look at the playground and say, "What do I have to do to make this a nice, safe place that kids can play?" Also, add some picnic tables, add some grills, add some soccer goals in the grassy field. Give people new things with modern people that they like to do. A study of the RV industry found that the number one thing that people like about RV parks is outdoor cooking. You know the same is true in your mobile home park. Let them have the opportunity. You can get insurance on things such as grills. They're not that much, maybe $500 bucks a year. People absolutely love them. When you bring in picnic tables and grills and things like that, it allows the entire family to participate in the playground, not just the kids.

What about the swimming pool? How do you bring that back to life? Well, kind of like the playground, number one, is it safe? A lot of these old pools somehow fell off the radar screen when mom and pop owned them. The inspector didn't know they were there or didn't want to bother mom and pop, but they don't meet current requirements. You've got to make sure before you would ever reopen a mobile home park swimming pool that it's completely in conformance with all codes. That's not only the pool itself but the decking as well. What you're going to see, I think, in the future and a lot of these old pools which are in fact too old and too unsafe to bring back into active service, is a replacement of them with splash pads. Working on one of those projects right now ourselves.

What's a splash pad? I know you've seen them. There's one going up not far from me over in Perryville, Missouri right now. Basically it looks like a basketball court, only instead of having basketball goals, it has different things on it that spray water. The best of them have a giant bucket. I know you've seen that where the bucket fills and then periodically, and no one knows when, it dumps all the water on everyone below. People love that item. Others don't have that though. They just have basically spray nozzles that randomly spray water onto the kids. The beauty of the splash pad is it's ADA compliant, so everyone can participate. It's safe. You can't drown on it. It doesn't require a lot of maintenance because you're not treating the water. This is regular city water that's coming out of those nozzles, and you don't recycle it back through. One of the big things about splash pads, I think the reason they're being so popular is that kids like them better. If you ever go to the water park, where are the kids? Are they in the pools? No, they're always over in the splash pad area waiting for the big bucket to drop on them. I think the future of water sports altogether may be splash pads. Cheaper to operate, cheaper to build and actually a whole lot more fun.

Finally, mom and pop's old house. Now we're really getting into Chip and Joanna Gaines' territory, so where the heck are they? I need them right now. They can give us some great ideas. I'm putting up old ship slap siding and all these things they do on their show. What do you do with mom and pop's old house. Well, you bring it back to life? Now, what can you do with the house? Sure, you can paint it and reroof it and fix it up, but what's the purpose of it today? Well, there's a couple of purposes. Number one, you can make it the manager's home. Many of our mobile home parks, we brought mom and pop's old house back to life, all the way from custom brick homes to little 1920s bungalows. They make a great manager's home because they're typically right at the front of the property where the manager should be. Or, you can make it into a rental home. Again, that's real income, so that goes to the bottom line, helps you get your park a higher valuation.

Finally, you can make it into some, again, form of community center. Typically, those homes can be used fairly well for entertainment and other items. So again, why waste one more feature to help your residents get that sense of relationship with all their residents, that whole sense of community that is so strong. Also, don't forget on the inside, always watch those shows on HGTV. Get some ideas of new fresh colors, new fresh flooring colors. It's amazing the power of paint. You can get so many great ideas watching those shows, and you'd be shocked. You can go right down to home depot and Lowe's and buy those same colors, the same finishes and things right there. Put them in your home, and it'll look just about as good as HGTV. So although there's not any show right now that I'm aware of on cable telling you how to freshen up those old mobile home parks, maybe this will get you to start. Maybe one day Chip and Joanna Gaines will expand into the mobile home park sector, but until then, I will have to do. Again, this is Frank Rolfe, The Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast Series. Hope you enjoyed this. We'll talk to you again soon.